Dr. Politics redux
January 20 2019
I should be writing about the serious problem of inequality and to what extent it has an ethnic dimension, as I promised last week. I should also perhaps be looking at firms’ and banks’ balance sheet to discern trends. The latter, in particular, can wait since Guyana does not possess informationally-sensitive forward and spot markets. As someone who actually completed a doctorate in economics, but who makes it a point to tell people to call me by first name, this fetishization of the doctorate in Guyana has been bothering me. I think a large part of the misunderstanding comes from the motivation for obtaining the title to impress the masses. We have the problem of a large percentage of the population being unaware of how one gets a doctorate and its primary purpose. Most people conflate an honorary doctorate for a real one. This reminds me of Lloyd Best’s coinage of the term “doctor politics” as it relates to Trinidad and Tobago. It’s an apt term for several members of the new Guyanese political class, I believe.
I will not discuss much the medical doctor (MD) degree, except to say it is one of the most difficult programs to gain acceptance into and to complete in the United States. I will limit my discussion to the doctoral degree in the social and natural sciences, as well as the doctoral research-focused degree offered by business schools – the doctor of business administration (DBA).
The purpose of a doctorate is to dedicate one’s life to research in the social, medical or natural realm. So, for example, if one is an MD that person’s calling is to save our lives by diagnosing and treating illnesses. You can have an MD-PhD which is meant for research in that field. The latter provides deeper methodological training than the MD. In general, the PhD (or DPhil) and DBA are research degrees. If one is passionate about research in academia, government or private sector, then pursue this degree. It is a gruelling experience. So, do not punish yourself if research is not your passion. They all require serious methodological training, coursework, oral and written comprehensive exams, and an original doctoral dissertation that must make a contribution to the field. No self-respecting university offers doctorates for summarizing existing knowledge.
Let me discuss what I know personally: the case of economics in United States. The PhD requires a coursework of 60 credits (20 graduate level courses and seminars) – each having its own exams, term papers, etc. Then one needs to choose two fields of specialization in which one does comprehensive four-hour exam. In addition, there is a second comprehensive four-hour exam in core methodology of microeconomics, macroeconomics and econometrics. When the committee chair believes the candidate has a viable topic with an original contribution, then he/she is allowed to defend the proposal orally in front of the entire committee. And now the writing starts! Reading for and writing the dissertation takes several years. When the write up is finished, then one does the final oral defence in front of the committee once more. The doctorate is granted if the second defence is successful.
An original contribution typically means the person invented a new methodology (typically a new mathematical estimator) or uncovered a new explanation of some economic or social phenomenon (natural for the natural sciences). If someone is not passionate about research and teaching at a university, do not pursue this degree. There are actually better options for a senior civil servant, politician or CEO.
As a political leader one needs to be able to propose the right questions to the technical people. An accomplished politician needs to understand the studies offered by consultants and senior officers. Hence, some specialized training is desirable, but it does not need to be a doctorate. I think one of the disservices of University of West Indies was to dis-incentivize the two-year master’s programs. The one-year programs get most of the applicants, so the longer version can’t survive. In the old days the UWI Mona two-year master’s in economics produced thinkers on par with those who have today’s doctorates.
There is no need to make oneself a fool by receiving academic training while functioning as a minister of government. This is no more than the intention of title accumulation because being a minister and researching an original dissertation is not easy. One is usually sacrificed, thereby opening the door for willing supplicants in the background to do all the work. This has happened under the PPP and there is a present situation where a sitting minister is pursuing a doctorate online. I’d be curious to get some information on the methodological training coming from these online for-profit schools. I would think if you are going to be the Minister of Education, you should already have a track record and also be certain to know what Phagwah is. A serious doctorate opens the mind to novel and new ideas. One has respect for the scientific method. One does not allow his/her Pentecostal narrowness to prevent knowing festivals of another religion. I do not consider any of doctorates offered by the American right-wing religious schools serious. Of course, I am not talking here about the secular degrees offered by historically Christian schools, such as the respected St. Johns University or Notre Dame.
The British and European doctorates do not require extensive coursework. This is because they require a master’s degree and a detailed dissertation proposal before acceptance. The American version as outlined earlier does not require a master’s and dissertation proposal before acceptance. One typically enters an American PhD with a bachelor’s degree; hence, they take longer to finish. University of West Indies follows the British model, but I know there was talk at Mona (primarily the econ. people) to move to the American approach. I don’t want to enter into that debate right now, but in my opinion the two approaches are equivalent. The American programs do offer some exemptions if one enters with a master’s. They tend to be very skimpy with exemptions, however. An academic program such as PhD in economics or finance will not offer coursework exemptions if one has an MBA. This is because an MBA is not an academic degree, nor does it train for research.
Hence, there is a difference between a professional credential such as the MBA, CPA, ACCA, CFA, etc. and the academic degree. The main difference has to do with the intensity of the methodological training. One of the interesting things these days is foreign online schools are offering professional master’s without a bachelor’s. These are typically for-profit schools. I have my doubts, which stem mainly from their under emphasis of theoretical and methodological concepts. Moreover, in the academic and consulting world, for example, a professor in accounting in the United States typically must attain both the professional CPA certification and the academic PhD in Accounting.
A strange phenomenon in Guyana is the equation of the honorary doctorate with the academic doctorate. It is not normal for those receiving an honorary doctorate to be called ‘doctor.’ Academics with PhDs tend to use the designation in formal seminars, classrooms and similar settings. Jagdeoian shills have been calling the former President Dr. Jagdeo. However, this is silly. It is silly because it exposes the insecurity of the shills in that vertical power-supplicant relationship. Bharrat Jagdeo was President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. No academic doctorate can equal that accomplishment.
Mr. Irfaan Ali today would have a lot more public support if he campaigned on his accomplishments as minister. For all the missed opportunities, he implemented the largest housing drive ever in the country. He did not need to release a few certificates of attendance to the public thinking that we will not know the difference. Why try to insult your supporters’ intelligence? Do they believe their East Indian base is that stupid?
I will take up the inequality issue next week.